Here Is What We Think Of Onguma Camp Kala, Namibia
On the edge of Etosha National Park, inside a luxury lodge.
Namibia's Etosha salt pan, with its astounding concentrations of wildlife, has long captivated the imagination of nature lovers. A game-watching spectacle happens out here during the dry season (May to December), when elephant, zebra, springbok, oryx, kudu and eland gather around waterholes.
There is a tremendous amount of wildlife in this region, which makes it an excellent hunting ground for lions, and every day, you can witness the life-and-death drama of the wild world of Africa. The animals scatter when it rains (December to March), which is the time when many give birth, when males compete for dominance, and when migratory birds return; the rains bring a splash of color and dramatic light to the landscape – a photographer's heaven. As part of Etosha National Park, which is one of the largest national parks in Africa, the salt pan itself is a Unesco World Heritage Site. Camp Kala, one of five lodges in the Onguma Private Nature Reserve, is located on its eastern border.
A private nature reserve of 34,000 hectares, Onguma is privately owned. As well as attracting visitors who want to explore the neighboring Etosha National Park, the reserve has healthy populations of antelopes, lions, elephants, leopards, cheetahs, and black rhinos. The Onguma Bush Camp is a low-key (but extremely comfortable) camp and the Fort is a stately secluded lodge, which was Will Smith's home while working on the Welcome To Earth documentary for National Geographic.
Camp Kala, which opened in November 2022, is the property's most luxurious lodge. It has just four suites that skirt a busy waterhole and prides itself on exclusivity. Water attracts wildlife throughout the day (and at night), and one could quite easily enjoy a safari experience without ever leaving the luxury of the lodge. For their morning game drives, guests at Camp Kala have Etosha National Park exclusively to themselves, while guests at the other lodges have the park to themselves at dawn.
The entrance to Camp Kala is intentionally understated – and once you enter the thatched reception area you’re greeted simultaneously by gorgeous interiors and a magnificent view. The focal point of the lodge, which was designed by Nick Plewman Architects and has interiors by Fox Browne Creative, is the waterhole. The suites and the open-plan dining and bar areas (as well as the wooden decks that sweep around them) were designed to make the most of this view. The interiors are layered with earthy textures and neutral colours that are offset by accents of deep grey, black, white and polished bronze, creating spaces that are as serenely sophisticated as they are luxurious.
A raised boardwalk leads to the four suites at Camp Kala, two on either side of the dining/bar/reception area. The entire wall of each suite is covered in glass doors, which open onto broad decks that overlook the waterhole. With a log-fired hot tub, a cold plunge pool, sun loungers, a café table and a shaded king-size daybed, this outdoor space is perfect for game-watching and Instagramming.
There is an open floor plan in the suites. Binoculars and wildlife reference books are kept on the coffee table (which is an arrangement of painted tree stumps), a thoughtful and very relevant detail. There is a king-size bed in the center of the suite, surrounded by sweeping drapes and equipped with a cooling system. Porcupine quills frame a large mirror on the double vanity. Geometric designs on the glass-and-steel shower wall add a touch of urban chic to the space.
By using locally produced ingredients on the menus, as well as the ritual of dining, a sense of place has been created. A fire pit encircles the fire pit on the deck, where meals are often enjoyed alfresco.
When on safari here, you won't go hungry: all meals are multi-course affairs, and the lodge operates on a “open pantry” basis, so should you get hungry between sunrise coffee (with snacks), brunch, lunch, afternoon tea, sunset drinks (with snacks) and a four-course dinner, you'll find something tasty to eat.
You can choose from sparkling wine, fresh-pressed juices, homemade pastries, smoked salmon, "African breakfast pans" (spicier baby tomatoes, bacon, mushrooms, farm eggs, cheese, spinach stew), and gluten-free zucchini potato rosti for breakfast. Dinners include sorbets and mains such as game fillet, Namibian beef and mushroom ragyu, while lunch is a personalised buffet-type offering of cold meats, cheeses, salads, and bread.
The Private Waterhole at Camp Kala is home to everything from elephants and lions to warthogs, eland, giraffes and jackals - and right below the lodge's bar is a viewing hide with views across the waterhole. There are plenty of opportunities to explore the reserve, even if it might be tempting to stay at the lodge and wait for animals to come to you. In Onguma, guests have the option of going into Etosha National Park or remaining on the private reserve for two guided drives (one in the morning and one in the late afternoon). Guests can also book an exclusive-use photographic hide at another waterhole, as well as go on an interpretive bush walk with a ranger. The Dream Cruiser is a custom-converted Land Cruiser that has been cleverly outfitted with a bathroom downstairs and a bedroom on the roof for an unforgettable experience. After being served a delicious picnic dinner, the vehicle is parked at a waterhole, and you will be left alone for the night. It's exhilarating, and beautifully wild. You'll have a two-way radio if you need to contact a ranger.
The butler assigned to each suite remains the guest's primary contact throughout their stay, serving meals, arranging activities, and being available in case of need. There are twice daily game drives at Camp Kala, and time in the bush with an experienced Namibian guide adds layers of interest and insight. A bush walk or a photographic hide can also be arranged. The amicable staff make guests feel right at home in this luxurious, intimate camp (maximum eight guests, 12 if the entire camp is booked privately).
All children over the age of 12 are welcome; children under 12 may stay if the entire lodge has been reserved exclusively for them.
A conservation levy is charged to guests to guard and protect the reserve's black rhino population. The farm employs more than 180 people from the surrounding community and supplies vegetables to the reserve's lodges as well as the Namibian market. There are no single-use plastics at Camp Kala, and any plastic that does enter the lodge is recycled. The glass waste from the other lodges was crushed and used for the construction of Camp Kala.
A wheelchair is not accessible in the bathrooms of the lodge because there are some stairs. For the less-mobile, getting in and out of the game-viewing vehicle might be difficult, but this lodge's location ensures that there is an almost-constant stream of wildlife at the waterhole, so you can stay all day at Camp Kala and still enjoy a private safari.